Wednesday, January 13, 2010
All eyes at the state Legislature are on how politicians will handle the state's nearly $400 million revenue deficit, but other bills outside of money issues are creeping their way into committees.
Bill Denny, R-Jackson, is continuing an effort to complicate the state attorney general's ability to hire outside counsel to pursue lawsuits on the state's behalf begun by Attorney General Bill Allain in 1980.
Examples of courtroom maneuvering include Mississippi's $126 million suit against defunct telecommunication giant WorldCom, which the state settled for $115 million with the aid of now-convicted attorney Joey Langston.
Denny submitted a bill, HB 276, that would force the attorney to filter any potential $100 million contract with an attorney through a legislative committee hearing.
Attorney General Jim Hood, when faced with a similar bill during the 2009 legislative session, warned that the extra red tape would complicate the possibility of a quick filing, discourage attorneys from bringing cases to the attorney general, and remove the element of surprise that often gives the attorney general's office an edge in filing suits against "corporate wrongdoers," as Hood describes them.
"Why don't they just come out and tell me to stop suing their corporate buddies?" Hood asked the Jackson Free Press in 2009.
Denny also followed through with the governor's call to consolidate public-school systems throughout the state.
Denny submitted HB 291 this year, which demands that all municipal schools be abolished and merged into a countywide school district with one county board of education and one appointed superintendent of education.
The law essentially reduced the state's more than 150 school districts into 82 districts, complete with the theoretical savings that would provide.
"From and after July 1, 2011, each county in the State of Mississippi shall constitute a school district and shall be known as the "School District of _____County, Mississippi," the bill states.
The new district lines must go through the U.S. attorney general's office for pre-clearance, or to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for a declaratory judgment in accordance with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The act has a say in the matter because of the state's history of denying a political voice to black people.
"It's not easy to eradicate a black-elected school board without some conversation over the Voting Rights Act, after all," Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said.
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said he couldn't wait to see how well Denny's district overlapping Madison County (which is largely segregated with a majority black population in the city of Canton and a largely white population in nearby Madison) takes the consolidation.
Blount, for his part, is trying to upgrade campaign-finance laws this year. He submitted Senate Bill 2250 this session, which is a near-identical twin to a campaign-reform bill Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed in the 2004 legislative session.
The bill alters election law to provide that contributions to a named candidate made through a political action committee, count as contributions directly to the candidate. It would also require that campaign-finance reports filed with the secretary of state's office must include information regarding loans or other extensions of credit made to a candidate for use in the candidate's campaign.
The bill also includes new regulation over corporations that contribute to political campaigns and places trusts, incorporated associations, limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships or manager-managed limited liability companies under new restrictions.
The legislation had the backing of former Secretary of State Eric Clark and Hood in 2004, as well as a majority of legislators.
But Barbour vetoed it, arguing that the bill would put a limit on contributions to political action committees, and powerful lobbying groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its affiliateswhich have largely changed the face of the state court system in the South to an anti-plaintiff environment.
Clark said at the time of the veto that without the law, the state would continue to allow special interest groups to buy elections in Mississippi.
The Senate is alive with other legislation sure to turn heads. Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, is taking up health issues in a big way after submitting a bill preventing smoking in all public places.
Senate Bill 2143 is fairly cut and dry, defining a "public place" as "any enclosed area to which the public is invited or in which the public is permitted, including, but not limited to banks, educational facilities, health facilities, laundromats, elevators, public transportation facilities, reception areas, restaurants, retail food production and marketing establishments, retail service establishments, retail stores, theaters and waiting rooms," and restricts burning any kind of "lighted" product in it. Which would include pipes and cigars.
Of Mistresses and Abortion
Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, is making a stand for former U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, whose ex-wife Leisha Pickering filed a July complaint in Hinds County Circuit Court against Jackson resident Elizabeth Creekmore-Byrd for alienation of affection.
Leisha Pickering alleges in her suit that her husband Chip Pickering and Creekmore-Byrd had a long-standing relationship that ended prior to the Pickering marriage, but resumed during Chip Pickering's congressional career in Washington, D.C.
Pickering filed for divorce against this wife this year, and now serves as a lobbyist with Capitol Resources in Jackson, which lobbies for Cellular South.
Creekmore-Byrd is on the board of Telepak, which owns Cellular South.
Fillingane's timely bill, should it pass, will abolish the common-law tort of alienation of affection, possibly complicating Leisha Pickering's argument. Some of the old hats will be making a return trip this time around. Senate Bill 2292, authored by Sen. Lee Yancy, R-Brandon, is another bill to outlaw abortion in Mississippi. The law recognizes that "every human being, including those in utero, possesses a natural intrinsic right to live and has an interest in life," and says the state of Mississippi "possesses a duty to protect" that life.
Making abortion illegal is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, however, so should the state vote to challenge the federal decision, the matter will head to Supreme Court and doubtless ignite a battle between the countless pro-abortion rights/anti-abortion factions bordering on civil war as Supreme Court Justices battle the issue out in Washington.
Or, more likely, House Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, will never allow Yancy's counterpart bill out of his Public Health Committee, as he traditionally has done for years.
Brown introduced two notable education bills last week.
One, House Bill 36, would reestablish a state charter school law, after lawmakers allowed the old one to sunset last year.
Unlike its predecessor, which stipulated a 0cap of six on the total number of charter schools, Brown's bill would limit the pace of charter expansion, allowing the Mississippi Department of Education to only grant five charters per year for the first three years after passage and ten charters per year after 2013.
The charter bill would be a crucial step in improving Mississippi's chances with Race to the Top, a competitive $4.35 billion federal grant program that encourages education reform at the state level. Mississippi is eligible for between $60 and $100 million through Race to the Top, but without a charter law it stands little chance of winning a grant.
Other states, most notably Michigan, have devoted considerable legislative energy to improving their prospects for the program.
Another of Brown's bills, H.B. 80, would create a task force to study the implementation of universal pre-kindergarten. Like other legislative task forces, this one would deliver recommendations to the governor and lawmakers. While the task force's findings are not predetermined, Brown's bill asserts that "the development and funding of quality research-based pre-kindergarten programs is needed urgently in our state."
For the extreme in absurdity see SB 2019 & SB 2020 by Sen McDaniel - the 1st bill allows carrying a concealed weapon in public parks & the 2nd allows carrying one into a church. What is equally outrageous is that no one has reported about their existence.